Taking Aim

Battleship communications tower

Let go of the anger and the hurt so it does not destroy you, too.

Big, fat tears welled up in her eyes and spilled over, running down her cheeks. Her voice changed as she tried to talk around the lump in her throat. 

“But mommy, I’m going to miss all of my friends! Jackie and Bennet and Katie and all of my teachers…”

I wrapped my arms around her even tighter.

“I know, bug-a-boo, but we don’t know if your school is going to be there much longer and we need a plan B for just in case.”

“I miss my principal!” she wailed.

Changing schools at the start of a school year is hard. I remembered. But doing it suddenly like this mid year was going to be that much worse.

My son wiped tears from his wet face. “I am really going to miss my teachers.”

“I know, hon.”

You need to show a more charitable response.

They gutted the school in front of the kids. During class the teachers had to take down all of the wall and window decor. Furniture was moved. Locks were changed. The beloved principal was fired without warning while she was on vacation celebrating her wedding anniversary.

They’d promised nothing would change for the first year. It was November. Not even three months in.

Parents showed up and cussed out the new owner’s representatives. I rescheduled some patients and went up there myself to check on my own kids, to check on the teachers. Hollow eyed, people wandered about and spoke in hushed tones, shellshocked. 

Be a good steward, not just of your money, but also of your love. Give freely…

There were rumors teachers were being fired or resigning.

“I’m here for the kids. I will stick it out for the rest of the year no matter what. I can take a beating when it comes to those kids if need be. If THEY will let me…”

Meanwhile, the new owners refused to communicate with the parents or the teachers. The kids were left in a scary limbo. Friends were pulled out of classes and transferred to other schools with no opportunity to say goodbye.

Choose to show love when it is least expected.

I could not sleep. When I did sleep it was fitfully, dreaming nightmares that they were taking the kids and not letting us have them back.

The nightmare has been running for four days now in my brain, and it won’t shut off. I am struggling with what my response should be. The brain does crazy things under stress. How do you express that much anger, hurt, and betrayal in a sane way so that the person who did it can really understand? 

Would they understand?

Let my love for them show through you.

We tried out a new church because I will be transferring my kids to an Episcopal school and I wanted them to understand chapel. 

“Mom, why are they kneeling?”

“Mom, why did they take the book out into the aisle to read from it instead of up on the platform?”

“Why did he touch my forehead?”

It was part of the adventure. New church. New school. I found there was comfort in the symbolism and ritual.

“Come up to the front and get one of these crosses for your family then get one of these envelopes with $5 in it and use that this week to show kindness to someone else in a bold and daring way. Don’t just stick it into the Salvation Army donation bucket. DO something with it.”

And then I knew.

My response… 

Do something unexpected.
“It is not your fault what the new owners did to the kids and the parents and the staff. It was wrong, though, and I cannot keep my kids in this school. I do want you to know that I wish you luck as you try to repair the damage done to the relationships here. It is going to be a long road back.” I handed the new director a small gift bought with that $5 and gave her a hug. 

And then I walked away. 

Forever.

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Music to My Ears

River in the fall

“Your son has a lovely boy soprano voice. I would like for him to sing a solo at the Christmas program….”

“Mom! I get to sing! In front of everyone. She said I have a gift!” He beamed as he scrambled into his seat. 

I reread the note several times over the rest of the evening. My kid is special! Isn’t that what every parent longs to hear? And yet there was part of me that felt sad. Music might very well be the thing that takes him away from me. 

He is so brave, getting up in front of people to put himself on display like that. I would have been paralyzed by the prospect at his age. 

“You know there are boys choirs that travel all over the world,” I offered tentatively, imagining his sweet face singing Ave Maria on television. 

He loves music so much. He is playing piano in second grade at the level I was at when I was in junior high. It comes naturally to him somehow.

“I want to share my gift, Mom, but I don’t want to be away from you and dad.” He started to tear up. “I like being with my family…”

More than anything else, more than hearing that someone thinks my child has the voice of an angel, what I am most proud of is that my kid feels loved enough that he wants to hang with his family. 

He will spread his wings and fly off soon enough but he knows that he will always have a safe place to come back to. Well. At least until he turns 18. That is how I know that all of the difficult choices and sacrifices I have made are worth something. 

My kid feels whole.

That is the best gift of all. 

Owed

Refurbished part of the Ellis Island hospital

The VA medical system in the US is a shameful mess, not worthy of our veterans.

If we expect someone to lay their life on the line to protect our freedom and the freedom of others all over the world, we have a responsibility to provide for their medical care and that of their families even after their service in a way that is on par with the quality of care received elsewhere in the country. 

Instead there is corruption, waste, deception. Veterans die waiting for help. I have seen the effects of poor care.

Let’s stop ignoring it and do something about it. You want to do something meaningful for Veterans Day? Write to your elected officials and demand change.

Changing Times

Fall colors on the water

I love the fall. I love the colors, the pumpkins, the hint of cooler weather. I love the baking, wearing sweaters, fires in the fire place. I do not, however, love the time change.

Who likes it? That’s what I want to know. And if everyone hates it so much, why the hell hasn’t anyone changed it?!?!!??! Every year we all complain. There are news articles decrying the needlessness of it. And yet, it still happens. 

The dreaded “Fall Back”…

So, the time change alone is bad enough by itself but this year I also forgot to turn back my kids’ clocks so their alarms went off an hour too early yesterday morning. Gah. Who can remember to turn back ALL of their clocks? Worse? It was dark by the time I left work to go pick them up from school. 

Cranky kids. 

Cranky mom. 

For the next few months I will exist in a disorienting cave of darkness, a fugue state of sorts, confined to a building during daylight hours. My brain does not like this. It craves the feeling of sunlight on my skin, the deep red glow of sun filtered through closed eyelids. I find that this matters more and more to me each fall and winter. 

Bottom line? Gaining an hour of sleep is a farce. We don’t get more rest. We don’t have more energy. It is all a sorry pack of lies we tell ourselves every dang year. 

As Long as You have Your health…

Alrighty, here is another reblog for the week just so you know I am not alone in my grumbling and paranoia. Enjoy!!!!

No Facilities

The perfect place and beverage to share some casual conversation.

If we were having a beer, you’d seem concerned about my health.

“Are you in a wellness program?”

“Why, is that a requirement for drinking here?”

“No, of course not. I was just wondering. My company just started one and it looks interesting.”

“I have access to a wellness program, but it’s not direct with our company.”

“Through your health insurer?”

“No, through the organization that provides the health insurance to our company.”

“Hey guys. Just so you know, it’s not like I’m not concerned about your health, but I am here to sell you adult beverages, barbequed chicken wings, pizza or pasta smothered in cream sauce.”

“Hi Cheryl. I’m not sure where this conversation is going, but before he condemns my poor choices, I’ll have a Yuengling.”

“And I’ll have a glass of Meiomi. So, what’s the scoop on…

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Real Terror Is….

Central Park, NYC

“Mommy, there is a fifth grader at school whose mommy had her when she was thirteen! Maybe I will get lucky and have a baby when I am thirteen. Then I will have someone to boss around.”

“Uh. Sweetheart. You don’t want to have a baby when you are thirteen.”

“Why not?” She was incredulous.

How to communicate that it is a terrible idea without tearing down the other girl’s mommy?

“Because having a baby when you are a teenager is generally frowned upon.” 

“Why?”

“A baby is a lot of responsibility. A lot of dirty diapers. Tons of poop. It is also very, very painful. You want to wait until your body is big enough.”

She was undeterred. “How do you get a baby?” There was silence as I pondered whether or not my six year old daughter was ready to learn the specifics about baby-making when suddenly she brightened up and blurted out, “Drinking alcohol. Is that how you do it?”

“Um. Yes? Sometimes?” My mind wandered to the patient who had recently gone on a so called booze cruise and came back pregnant with triplets…

“Alright!” She smiled sweetly at me, finally satisfied that now she knew the secret and then without missing a beat she said, “I am going to drink some alcohol.”

Going Places

IMG_1253

“Ok, I’m going to call it. Any objections?” 

Silence from the room. 

All motion stopped. No more CPR. No more rummaging for the next medication in the crash cart. The nurse on the phone calling for another two units of pack red blood cells simply stopped mid sentence and hung up.

I dropped the empty syringe that had spent the past hour and a half clutched in my right hand into the pocket of my white coat. The fingers were stiff and achy as I stretched them out. “Time of death….” I cranned my neck around the greying head of the house supervisor so that I could see the wall clock by the door. “…. 0325.”

“Good job, everyone. Let’s clean up so we can let the family back.”

Syringes were counted and recorded by the clerk to make sure the amount of each med given was accurately reflected in the log. Debris was swept up. Hands gently covered the emaciated body with a gown and pulled up the sheet, the eyelids were closed. A nurse took out the IV and another pulled the tubes from his nose and mouth, wiping the blood and mucous from the now lifeless lips. 

He looked so peaceful.

Cancer of the stomach. He had certainly suffered. He was not willing to die peacefully, refusing hospice and refusing to sign a “do not resuscitate” order. He fought even at the end. 

My wrist still hurt. 

I liked being around death. It was hard to explain to people. They would stare at me with a puzzled and slightly horrified look on their faces, lost for words so I stopped talking about it altogether. I always wanted to ask the dying to put in a good word for me when they got to where they were going, but I never did.

One by one everyone left the room.

In a minute I would go out to his wife and children and explain that we had done everything we possibly could but I needed a minute before facing the onslaught of grief.

I put a hand on his chest and said a silent prayer for his soul, then one for mine. I looked back up at his face. Strangely, his eyes were open. They were a bright blue. The bluest blue I think I had ever seen.

Then they blinked.

A hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me closer. 

His hand. 

My heart skipped a beat as fear rushed through my body and into my fingers and toes. 

Then the hand let go and fell back to the bed with a flop, as if there was no more energy left. It must have been some sort of cadaveric spasm…

“She knows.” 

The rasping sound came from his lips but how could that be? He was still attached to the heart monitor, someone had forgotten that detail, and there was no heartbeat. I checked for a carotid pulse. Nothing. No breathing.

“What do you mean? Who is she?”

The eyes bore into me. 

His lips moved. “She knows…” I touched the lips. They were cold.

“Who is she?!?!??” I asked again.

No response.

My voice rose as I asked again and again but the blue eyes just stared back at me never wavering. I grabbed the shoulders and shook him but he still provided no answers.

Anger and terror rose up into my throat, swelling into a tight lump that lodged there. My brain raced from irrational thought to irrational thought. I could not breathe. 

Someone knew what I was doing? But how? I’d been so careful!

My hand touched the pocket with the empty syringe.

Rage. 

I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. Hard. I punched the chest. I yelled at the blue eyes, tore at his lips…

Someone pulled me away.

“Doc! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows….”

Broken Windows

Broken window at Ellis Island hospital

It irks me beyond measure that my eyes are aging to the point that to read posts from the WordPress app on my phone I now require glasses, that to look at certain skin lesions in clinic I need to run grab the red framed readers that I *affectionately* call my old-lady glasses. Adjusting to this new reality is taking some time. I still find myself stubbornly squinting at the screen as if denial will make it all go away… 

Thursday Thoughts From the Throne #7

Clock feature in a small park in NYC

Is the day over? No?

Phew!

Made it. 

My colon has been awfully out of whack this week. So has my running schedule, come to think of it…

So, most of the time I try to avoid talking politics and religion with my patients and my friends. There are only a few trusted people I feel I can have a rational conversation with. Today, though, I ran across one of those people who was trying to convince me that my theology was misguided and that abortion was wrong in all circumstances. Even in the case of an 11 year old girl who was molested by her uncle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy. He is a good man, even if we fundamentally disagree. However, he made a comment about prayer in school that got my dander up. Specifically he said that Christian prayers only should open every school day and that more of it probably would have prevented the Las Vegas shooter from killing all of those people.

Um. No.

I am going to skip the theology question and the abortion issue and hit on that school prayer statement.

Being prayed at is not the thing that prevents hurting people from lashing out. Love does. Good parents who try to do right by their kids and their spouses, fellow human beings who show kindness…. these are the things that prevent damaged people. 

Loving people who need it is awfully darn hard. 

I am not saying don’t pray. Go ahead and pray. I pray. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can help you love, help you find kindness when you don’t think there is any left inside of you. Here’s the thing, though: Don’t you ever think for one minute that your prayer means you have done your duty and your responsibility to other people stops there. No. You have to physically reach outside of yourself and help those around you or you are just saying empty words. 

I used to be that person, the one for whom the world was black and white. No amount of arguing or reasoning could change my mind. I was so full of anger back then. Why doesn’t everyone see the logic that I see? Life had to show me the all of the other shades of gray and the myriad of vibrant colors that make up this world. It had to show me that I am not as smart as I thought I was. 

Life is still teaching me.

Kind of makes me wonder what I will think of this post in ten years…